You can read the original documents and the stories here. They reveal Adani Group lobbied through Niti Aayog to lift curbs on stocking limits. Farm laws did just that.
Some months back we got a whiff of what Niti Aayog had cooked up behind closed doors. We began digging for evidence. It took us months to get to these documents. And yet more time to parse through them carefully and reach out to experts and officials.
In Feb 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an ambitious announcement: By 2022, farmers' incomes would double. How? To figure it out, within 2 months the govt set up an inter-ministerial committee.
It took two years. Consulted a diverse range of people and experts. And, in 2018 it wrote a solution. In 3000 pages of a 14-volume report.
Not everyone was impressed. A classic gov't report that says everything and solves nothing, some thought. Some others thought the committee had failed because the real solution lay in market and business models.
Enter Sharad Marathe.
A US-based mechanical engineer, running a software business. With no expertise in agriculture -- a fact he admitted to over the phone.
In October 2016, he mailed the then NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar a grand proposal to overhaul Indian agriculture.
In the proposal, Marathe envisioned giant companies run on PPP models, controlling agriculture with farmers as cogs.
Governments get thousands of proposals, and ideas from concerned citizens every day.
But this one was special. The Niti Aayog acted with alacrity. Within days the proposal was moved to the PMO. The Aayog, the minister of state for agriculture, and India's top officials met over it.
And, within a short span, a special Niti Aayog task force had been set up with Marathe as the driving force on it as member. To find business models that would double farmers' incomes and make the Prime Minister's vision a reality.
Contrast this haste and feverish pace within the government on this proposal about farmers' fate with how it would later respond to protests and demands by farmers' groups to be heard about the farm laws.
Did it help that Marathe counts the then Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, Ashok Dalwai (chairman of the inter-ministerial committee on doubling farmers' incomes) and Vijay Chautaiwale (BJP foreign affairs unit head) among his "friends"? One can only guess.
This is how governments' function, you might say. You got to have 'connections'. Fair enough. And it's surely not a bad idea in principle to be discussing the role of corporates and possible business models to double farmers' income.
But why were the meetings and the findings of the Task Force kept a secret? Who did the task force consult? What did they say? Why would the citizens of India never come to know about it?
Why would you as citizens get to hear about it for the first time from investigative journalists? The Niti Aayog records we accessed, perhaps tell us why.
The task force to decide farmers' fate did not consult farmers, agriculture and rural development economists or experts. It consulted only a select band of corporates, who have large stakes in the agricultural commodities and products business.
Corporates in the agriculture supply chain are not a problem per se, experts say. But a corporates' priority is to maximise profits. And that may not always align with farmers getting a better deal. It can happen by squeezing the costs at which companies procure from farmers.
Quite fairly, a government would have to also ask farmer groups if a business model is going to help them or help the corporates or help both.
The official inter-ministerial task force was operating in public. But this discreet one now was focused on listening to only corporates lobbying for their business in the name of farmers' welfare.
Nine of the ten company honchos that were consulted by the task force asked for policy changes for their 'business models'. Of these nine, four asked for public money from the government to back their ideas.
Adani Group, for example, floated the idea of a centre of excellence to be set up on land it owns in Gujarat. With 60% financial support from the government of India.
In another meeting, the Adani Group explicitly called the Essential Commodities Act a "deterrent to industry".
Essential Commodities Act is a policy tool for the govt to impose stocking limits. Called hoarding in commodities trade, it refers to a practice where traders shore up huge amounts of foodstuff. When shortages hit and prices zoom, the hoarder can then sell these for max profits.
The Adani Group, with large investments in food storage and transportation, saw this law as bad for business. It aired its views in a meeting with top officials of the NITI Aayog.
Now, the inter-ministerial committee too wanted to liberalise stock limits. But only for those companies that procured from farmers at MSP.
The task force on the other hand never discussed MSP. It was all about corporatising agriculture, after all.
Two years after Adani Group made its opposition to the law clear, the govt enacted the three farm laws. One of them curtailed the Essential Commodities Act -- aligning perfectly with Adani's business concerns.
The Niti Aayog file on the task force ends with a July 2020 letter by Ashok Dalwai celebrating the three farm ordinances the government had brought in a month before.
The laws ignited a year-long farmers' protest. After a year of obstinately holding its ground, the Modi govt gave in and repealed the laws. The PM, in his speech, expressed regret over the fact that he could not "explain" the laws well to the farmers.
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